Stephen Curry takes a kick pass in the corner from Kent Bazemore. Swish. He pulls up from 25 feet. Swish. Twenty-five again. Swish. One more time, the same distance and the foul.
For the first six minutes of Thursday night's fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers, Curry transported us back to last year's Western Conference playoffs. Where his silky-smooth jumper helped jettison the Denver Nuggets. Where it helped push the Warriors to a Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs.
Where everyone stopped wondering about where to put Curry on the NBA point guard hierarchy and realized he's arrived.
Curry scored 15 points in those six minutes, nailing four threes and transfixing the Staples Center while giving the national audience a glimpse of what it's like to be in #LeaguePassAlert. The Warriors lost, allowing 126 points to their 115, and of course that's what matters when you're playing against another team that counts Larry O'Brien Trophies in their slumber.
Curry knows that, and he's likely walking away more frustrated with his collective than impressed with his individual shooting performance. But this game was a rare instance and a glimpse into what the Warriors fans, front-office personnel and coaching staff see in Curry.
They see a player who could lead them to the Promised Land with his one God-given skill.
Curry is the rare player—perhaps the only player—who can send you into a state of hypnosis with his jumper. Kevin Durant has his Swiss army knife approach to offensive dominance. Kobe Bryant has his impenetrable will to win. LeBron James has his, well, pretty much everything.
Curry has his flick of the wrist. Coming up off elevator screens in a catch-and-shoot. Fooling his defender into taking that one extra step backward on a pick-and-roll. Even pulling up in transition when an open layup would have sufficed.
The motion, the rotation and the inalienable faith that these shots are going to drop into the cavernous, orange-rimmed abyss that Curry sees when he's in such a zone.
Curry finished with 38 points on Thursday. He shot 14-of-23 from the field, including 9-of-14 from beyond the arc. Those nine threes make him just the fifth player in NBA history to rack up at least nine triples three or more times. Adding nine assists to the mix, this could have been the type of night to cement Curry's status as the NBA's latest golden boy.
If it weren't for those other numbers.
Eleven. That's the number of times Curry coughed the ball up on Thursday. His passing was wildly erratic, as if he and Blaine Gabbert were Freaky Fridaying every time he wasn't shooting. He badly telegraphed passes coming out of pick-and-rolls, struggling against traps and showing some uncharacteristic misunderstanding of spacing.
On one particular first-quarter turnover, he got so far under the basket that he jumped up and tried to send off a pass across his body and left-handed out to the perimeter.
It didn't go well. The Clippers were able to get out on the fast break, create easy buckets and, more importantly, strip possible points off the board for Golden State.
This was the second double-digit turnover game of his career, joining an outing against the Jazz in his rookie season. Turnovers have been a bit of a problem throughout Curry's time in the NBA, with his career average coming in at three per night.
His court vision still isn't that of a "natural" point guard. All too often he'll look to split defenders when a simple hesitation dribble would suffice. And his telegraphed entry passes often leave David Lee or Andrew Bogut—two guys whose mobility could best be described as "minimal"—scrambling for the ball.
It was a point of emphasis for coach Mark Jackson this summer.
More disconcerting, however, were two other numbers. Forty-two. Fifteen. Those were Chris Paul's points and assists numbers on Thursday. For all of the rightful bluster there was on social media about Curry's lights-out shooting performance, Paul's offensive display was a work of art.
Playing with the type of vengeance he rarely displays in a regular-season contest, Paul eviscerated Curry on the defensive end. He ran him through a series of pick-and-rolls, taking advantage of the younger player's jumpiness and struggles getting through screens. The result was a 12-of-20 shooting performance and 17 attempted free throws for Paul.
By the end of the game, Klay Thompson was covering Curry's man while he was consigned to Jared Dudley.
If there are any dents in Curry's superstar armor, they begin and end on the defensive side. Though injury played a factor, Tony Parker made slight work of him last postseason.
Curry has also long struggled to defend in one-on-one situations, with his jumpy feet and lack of natural recognition skills creating a frustrating duality. Last season, opposing pick-and-roll ball-handlers scored 0.95 points per possession against Curry, ranking him 218th in basketball, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
For all of the spectacular moments, the #LeaguePassAlerts created and threes drained, that's the reality of Stephen Curry. He's a young man whose excellence on one end can oftentimes be matched by his deficiencies on the other. Curry remains on the exterior of the great point guard debates simply because he's yet to show the willingness or the know-how to approach replacement level defensively.
Whether he can get there or not may define whether the Warriors can win a championship. Either way, with nights like Thursday, it'll be a whole lot of fun seeing him try.
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